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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 21, New Delhi, May 9, 2020

Any Takers for Water Wisdom ?

Saturday 9 May 2020

Book Review

by Zulafqar Ahmed

This book “Towards Water Wisdom Limits, Justice, Harmony" has been written by Ramaswamy R. Iyer is really a path-breaking exercise. There are several books in his account which has been written on water issues. He has served as secretary of water resources in the Government of India under that capacity he played a leading role as a principal draftsman of India’s first National Water Policy 1987. This book comprehensively discusses the existing mainstream wisdom of water and attempts to set a new paradigm that could be more reliable and rational in the fast-changing world. The crux of this book is to make academicians, scholars, researchers, and common man aware of all those issues which are emerging in the Neo-liberal economies pertaining to water utilization, sharing, and management. Iyer, in this book categorically emphasizes the issue of ‘development’ and ‘sustainability’. He argues that in contemporary times we have to redefine the term ‘development’ which we have perceived for long.

Chapter 1 of the book talks about the existing mainstream view about the water. Iyer points out that water is deemed as commodity or ‘economic good’ as any other goods which are subject to market forces and are governed by the same rules of market ‘demand’ and ‘supply’. In this chapter, Iyer comprehensively discusses ‘water governance’. He argues that bad policies, corruption, misdirected planning are the features of inefficient water governance. If we carefully revisit our water governance then we will find that how much we lag behind in the sphere of management and development of water. Iyer argues that we must look at the wider canvas of political, social, economic, ecological, legal, and constitutional aspects of water governance. The issue of ‘politicization’ of water has comprehensively been discussed in this chapter. The author refers to Inter-state water disputes in India are glaring examples of the politicization of water disputes. Violent Cauvery river water dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and Ravi-Beas disputes among Rajasthan, Punjab, and Haryana present a clear picture of politicization of water in India.

Chapter 2 of the book highlights different water disputes which are different in nature. Indus river water dispute between two neighboring countries is a case of upper vs. lower riparian states. The difference between the two states emerges when one state claims that we are showing full consonance with the treaty whereas others say that it is not the case. In this chapter, Iyer talks about the Baglihar dam controversy between India and Pakistan. Pakistan has claimed that certain features of the dam are not in conformity with the provisions of the treaty, therefore dam violates the basic provision of the treaty. On the other hand, India claimed that they are in full conformity with the provisions of the treaty. Conundrum over the Cauvery river dispute has extensively discussed in this chapter.

Chapter 3 accentuates on Narmada river water dispute which is different from the other river water disputes. This dispute caused problems of displacement and rehabilitation for the displaced people. Further, the issue of equity and social justice came into the limelight after the construction of Sardar Soravar Dam on the Narmada. After this dispute, a debate started on whether the economic right should be given precedence over the fundamental right or not? In this chapter, Iyer has discussed the ‘privatization’ of water which is causing conflict between the private corporations and people. Iyer says Privatization of water leads this finite resource towards contamination which ultimately leads us towards scarcity

Chapter 4 of this book talks about ambiguities and perplexities of water laws in India. It is a confusing question to answer whether water is the property of State, Land-owner or civil society. Iyer argues that there is also a policy muddle in India where it is difficult to decide whether water is like any other commodity or is it not like any other commodity or is it a basic human right that needs to be protected by the state. In this chapter, the author also pleas for national legislation on water. He argues that there should be a constitutional declaration on the water which would ensure the significance of water protection and preservation among the masses.

Chapter 5 highlights water issues of India’s neighboring states particularly northern part of the subcontinent which is linked with the Himalayan region. The author comprehensively discusses water issues of Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh. Further, Iyer discusses India Inter-River Linking Project (ILP) and its possible implications for neighboring countries. The author also pleas for the regional cooperation to find better solutions for water conflicts with neighbors because he believes that a regional approach is better than bilateral or national approaches in South Asia.

In chapter 6th of the book, Iyer categorically says that water is primarily a life-supporting substance than comes anything else. He says, this is an undeniable fact that water is a ‘basic human right’ and it should be given precedence over the ‘economic right’ of water. Here, the author invokes Gandhi’s famous dictum ‘need’ of the water could be easily fulfilled but ‘greed’ for maximum water may create a problem of scarcity. In conclusion, the author says that equity and social justice principles must be followed in sharing, utilization, and management of water. Further, he argues for sustainable development, harmony between different groups, countries, humanity, and nature must be ensured.

Though, this is the most lucid and comprehensive account that has been written on the water issue over the last few years but it lacks adequate data that could substantiate the arguments made by the author. This book has particularly been written for the purpose of to make common masses, policy-makers, scholars, and academicians aware of the emerging issues related to water. It provides us insight into how to preserve natural resources like water which is becoming a non-renewable resource from renewable because due to over-exploitation. The Author pleads us for the sustainable development which is the best strategy to preserve water resources.

Zulafqar Ahmed is Doctoral Fellow at the Department of Political Science, Aligarh Muslim University. He is currently doing research on the topic “Inter-State Water Disputes in India: Institutional Mechanisms and its Implications for National Integration” E-mail ahmedzulafqar78[at]

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